Ancient European Stone Monuments Said to Originate in Northwest France

Research on Stone Age tombs throughout Europe offers a new answer to an old debate on where and when the iconic stone works were first built.

Comments: 49

  1. This is interesting research, but it is, I believe, based on flawed assumptions: that radiocarbon dating is the most reliable method for obtaining construction dates of ancient sites like the European megaliths, and that radiocarbon dating is a good yardstick for relating the ages of sites in different parts of the world. I do not believe that most recorded radiocarbon dates are of structures, but of objects and remains found in or adjacent to structures. But the megalithic chamber structures of Portugal, for example, were re-used over thousands of years, so that objects found in them were placed there, perhaps many hundreds or thousands of years, after the structures themselves were built. Radiocarbon dating has been in use for decades, earlier and more extensively in some regions than others, and the accuracy of the dates is quite variable. The only thing such data tells us is approximately when the dated material arrived at the site. The megaliths may have been placed thousands of years earlier but radiocarbon dating can’t tell you that!

  2. @Robert Oldham Alas I agree. It would be nice to think the dates of these structures could be determined but radiocarbon dating can only be used on carbon i.e organic compounds not on the stones themselves. So the dates would be the dates of activity around the megaliths which as you say may well postdate their construction. Any knowledge I had of Bayesian analysis vanished decades ago; did this somehow compensate for this dating problem? Perhaps something could be gleaned from the ground underneath these huge rocks which presumably hasn't been touched since they were put in place. Has anybody done that?

  3. @Bloke - Yes I believe that carbon dating is based on the organic matter taken from the sockets of the stones - the plants that were present when the stones were put in place.

  4. @Robert Oldham Hi Robert, I'm an archaeologist that uses radiocarbon dates in my work. It's true, you can't directly date something like a stone megalith with radiocarbon dates. But building sites like these necessitates a sizable group of people working together over a span of time, a process that would leave a lot of organic debris that can be radiocarbon dated. Thus, we typically date pieces of charcoal or other preserved organic matter recovered from stratigraphic excavations around the site. A single radiocarbon date tells you very little, because as you said, it can be from later reoccupation or use of the site, and sometimes you get an anomalous sample. However, with enough radiocarbon dates (and knowing where exactly in the stratigraphy of the site they come from) we can construct a fairly solid timeframe of human activity at the site, and infer a date range for its construction and use. Hope this helps!

  5. What a welcome respite from national emergencies and battling agendas in Congress. Lovely pictures too. I always find megalithic structures comforting, would like to live right in that little village at the heart of Avebury.

  6. @sherry As a child visiting Avebury a long time ago with family, I wandered off our evening table from the pub in silent amble among the stones, save the grass underfoot, for the rasp of my own touch into the wind, knowing they wouldn’t miss me but could feel where I’d gone, and just wait on the mystery.

  7. Journalism and science still needs to explain how primitive people raised these huge stones to sit on top of other huge stones without the assistance of alien space craft...

  8. @ExitAisle - It's amazing what people can do with the wheel, the lever, and muscle. Check this out. You might get a kick out of it. How to move a 12 ton block with the help of friends.

  9. @ExitAisle wheel wasn't invented till 3500 BC, and that in Mesopotamia

  10. @ExitAisle If it these sites were aided by aliens & their space crafts, our ancestors must have done something to make them angry -- we haven't seen them since.

  11. Very cool stuff. But what about megaliths in Turkey and Middoe East like Gobekli Tepe that are many thousands of years older and include beautiful carvings? Different origins entirely?

  12. @Tam Hunt - The author does not mention it in the article because the site doesn't consist of standing stones. But one of the oldest human settlements known in the world is in the westernmost part of Brittany, at a site called Menez Dregan. This is a cave that now faces out on the Atlantic Ocean, just a few yards away, but at the time looked out on a plain that extended for 1-2 miles, sloping out to the sea. The sea level rise of 8-9 meters has now submerged that plain. In this cave is the earliest evidence of the use of fire in cooking, anywhere in the world. It dates back 460,000 years.

  13. @J Jenckthat would make it Neanderthal, or earlier?

  14. @J Jencks Gobekli Tepe and many other sites in Turkey are indeed standing stones. But they were covered many millennia ago and are only now being uncovered. They are megaliths smaller than at Stonehenge but more complex in structure and with carvings included on the megaliths.

  15. There are many reasons to visit Brittany: stunning coastline, beautiful forests, delicious seafood, the world's best crepes, friendly people, Celtic-rooted music. No trip to Brittany is complete without seeing some of the many dolmens and menhirs that blanket the province, particularly the region around Carnac, where some formations of dozens, or hundreds of standing stones have puzzled historians and architects for centuries.

  16. Amazing... I never knew there was much more than the Stonehenge structure all around Europe. I really wanted to know how these were built. Imagine the the depths of sorrow of the families living in those pre-ancient times to commit such acts of muscle and ingenuity. It's too bad we couldn't hear the chants or songs they must have sung and good food they cooked for all the people it took to come together and build these.

  17. @Tulafale - Look up Carnac. I believe it is the largest array of standing stones in the world. It is in the Morbihan district of Brittany, along its southern coast. It extends for MILES, and some of it is now lost because sea level rise thousands of years ago submerged parts of it.

  18. @J Jencks Global warming for thousand of years? Imagine that, must be coming out of an ice age?

  19. @Tulafale I didn't know there are so many on continental Europe. But while touring Britain and Ireland, it occurred to me that many of the ditches, mounds, and single round hills, were likely made by ancient man. It's wonderful to be around them. And we have so much more to learn.

  20. Fascinating stuff! I have a second home in NW France and spend about half my time there, intending to retire there soon. The coastal parts of Brittany are amazing. I encourage people to visit. There is a site near where I live called Menez Dregan. It is mind boggling! It is a cave in which are the remnants of the earliest use of fire in cooking, dated 460,000 years ago. Yes, that's not a typo. That is almost 100 times older than these megaliths. It seems that 460,000 years ago some proto-human French family invented cooking just a bit more than a dolmen's throw from where I sit and write this.

  21. @J Jencks I bet they dreamed of butter.

  22. @F. T.right after they discovered wine, without cheese

  23. Obelix approves.

  24. This is an interesting article. Sorry to be a pedant but could you please say Britain (if you mean Britain) and not England.

  25. True enough but a bit pedantic. For Americans, England and Britain have been pretty much synonymous for a very long time. It works well enough.

  26. @Joe This American agrees.

  27. "...used a statistical method called Bayesian analysis to narrow the dates further." Oh really? That reminds of the time I went to the doctor and he told me he would use a medical technique called "surgery" to address my ailments. Or the time I went to the orchestra and they entertained me with something called "music". Bayesian analysis contains such a breadth and depth of methods that it is no less general a term than "statistics" itself.

  28. @Dalton Hance Bayesian analysis is a branch of statistics which deals with revising probabilities based on subsequent data. The article would have been less informative had it not mentioned Bayes, English statistician, philosopher and minister.

  29. @Alan J. Shaw would that be bayeside, ny?

  30. West of Maastricht, Netherlands is an ancient flint mine called de Hengeput. Slabs of firestone were used in sacrificial rituals, similar to the stele Rituals of the Aztecs. Use of these flint slabs, found in layers deep under chalk beds at the time when the Christian religion was being prosetylised, is noticed in old churches where altars made from flint slabs. the flint mine is the shape of Rhodes' Glory Hole diamond mine in South Africa, where the ore was lifted from its depth by ox team ropes continuously dragging slabs to the surface as a local industry. The hole is fenced because it was a dangerous pit-fall....

  31. Mr. Gorman, This is a well-written article that opened new thoughts on the history of our species. I was fascinated by the connection of these sites with ancient DNA findings. This article plus the added benefit of the commentary of your reader J Jencks who told us about the ancient cave in Frane where the earliest use of fire in cooking near his second home. Maybe you could visit the cave near Menez Dregan and photograph the evidence of very, very early cooking. It is my understanding that cooking food appears to be connected to the development of our brains and shrinking of the digestive tract that required less energy for digestion making the energy available for brain development and the traits that make our species inventive and curious about who we are and from where we came from.

  32. An old European saying regarding travel way back when is "Land divides and water unites." Therefore it is totally believable that these burial monuments originated along European shores. Where they were beforehand might be anybody’s guess, but one probably had to travel by boat to reach Europe from there.

  33. What better way to impress primitive peoples than to heft great big unmoveable stones atop one another. Just like the Romans and their aqueducts, Ancient Aliens wowed the common folk with their technological prowess, since there is NO WAY they could have erected these things.

  34. @dbrum990 I disagree. So called "primitive peoples" were able to do extraordinary tasks. Genius is not limited to Romans or the West.

  35. why? Who was this important?

  36. I’m imagining those very first people erecting the largest megaliths. “Hey Charlie, it looks really great but can we use smaller rocks next time? I’m beat.”

  37. I love stone age tombs and have sought them out in the Scottish Islands, France, Malta, Ireland, and Spain. One of the things I love is that we know so little about the people or their beliefs, you can really let your imagination roam free. I especially recommend the Orkney Islands for fellow neolithic nerds.

  38. When travelling along Europe's highways & byways, keep an eye out for brown historical markers in particular those with the pi sign for dolmens.

  39. Gobeckli Tepe in southeast Turkey has the oldest known standing stones. They are hauntingly beautiful with bas relief, repousse' carvings of great skill. These and subsequent stone pillars were buried at the time and unknown until the 1960's. The standing stones of Northern France as described in this interesting story, and, for example, the culture of ancient Sumer both predated the pyramids and occurred 6000 years ago. But Gobeckli Tepe was created by unknown people another 6000 years earlier than that. The Persian Gulf didn't exist yet but was instead the lush river valley of the combined Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and reached almost down to the Strait of Hormuz. It must have literally been a garden of paradise.

  40. @Don Oberbeck Pyramids are much plder than they say they are. The Sphinx has recently been proven to be over 9000 years old due to water erosion (that much water could have only come from that time period).

  41. @Don Oberbeck I read that some people think the Garden of Eden was located in what is now the Persian Gulf. Makes as much sense as anything.

  42. @Irene Fuerst I agree. I meant to type that 'it must have been a kind of paradise, a virtual garden of Eden'. Thank you fo picking out the idea. The Persian Gulf is almost everywhere no deeper than 200+ feet and around 10,000BC the ocean level was about 190 feet below present levels. But by around 5,000BC it was only 30 feet lower than today. So, somewhere in that time period, all sorts of human habitats in that river valley, probably going back at least 50,000 years, were submerged.

  43. It will be interesting to see if genetics clarifies connections and relationships in these studies. As it is, we base our ideas mostly on the physical evidence we find. Who knows what physical evidence we have yet to find, or more importantly, what evidence has been lost, never to be found. With so many and such wide gaps in the physical record, I wonder how many more times the story of history will be rewritten.

  44. "She also hopes to do carbon-dating and more field work. Over the past decade, she said, she had dragged her family with her on research trips. Of course, she acknowledged, much of that travel was along the Atlantic coast of France and to the various Mediterranean coastal sites. 'It’s not the worst,' she said." And my wife and I squandered years and years in graduate school becoming psychologists. Well, Bloomington, Indiana is lovely in the fall. This was a fascinating read.

  45. you link these dolmens etc to burial activities but mention zero about whether skeletal remains had been retrieved from any of them. why not? seeing WHO was buried there might be very helpful in fleshing out alot of details a bunch of rocks wouldnt.

  46. I wonder how these relate to megaliths in Africa, if they do?

  47. Though these monuments may not strike us as being as splendid as the pyramids or other buildings of the ancients Middle East, they nonetheless show that these ancient inhabitants of Europe we civilized and sophisticated. Their differences from the more easterly civilizations perhaps have more to do the resources and climate of their territories than with purely cultural development differences.

  48. where did such large stones come from? how were they transported to their sites? They look way too large for ships of that era and there are no reports of digs or quarries near the sites. Exciting but I will anxiously await more information.